City Life – Somebody’s Photo Album, Sunday Book Bazar
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
The cover is black. The album’s hundreds of photos are in black and white. The back label says—Made in England.
This photo album is discovered by The Delhi Walla one afternoon at the Sunday Book Bazar, in Delhi’s Mahila Haat. It is buried under a pile of Sidney Sheldon paperbacks. The album is priced for a mere 100 rupees.
Inside is the documentation of one man’s life. Most photos cover India and England from the 1920s to the early 1940s, when we were still a British colony. The earliest pictures were taken in a family mansion in Ahmedabad, year 1925. Each page is extensively annotated in a clear, beautiful handwriting, with a pencil whose grey glossy shade shines out of the album’s black pages. The opening page shows a boy in various poses. Some pages later, the scenes shift to 1940, with a page marked “Our ship to UK.” The boy has grown into a young man—he is standing in a sunlit corridor, dressed in a suit, with a woman in sari standing a few steps behind him. Next page fixes the setting in Cambridge. The successive photos depicts him as a law student in that university town.
One does occasionally fish out precious books from the city’s famous book bazar. But it is rare to discover something so valuable, containing such extensive photographic details of a privileged individual’s life — that too from a period so rich in history. A great many books in the market are obtained by the sellers from so-called kabadi-wallas, who collect them from households getting rid of their collections, or parts of it. This album must have been given away by mistake.
Its middle section is most curious, with many pictures of a white woman; in each she is intensely gazing towards the camera. The handwritten notes are missing here. She disappears abruptly, with the later pages shifting back to India. Now our protagonist is in a huge mansion in Ahmedabad. He is wearing kurta pajama. In one picture he is sitting cross-legged on the floor, his dinner plate a large banana leaf.
The album concludes with our Cambridge-returned hero posing in front of various Delhi monuments. Who was this man? What became of his life? The answers might be in other albums—hopefully they are lying safe with him, or his inheritors.
Lost album regained